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A dream blooms in the desert

Interstate 10 cuts through the west Texas city of El Paso. On that highway, in 1971, the Spirit of the Lord dropped a desire in Eddie Lee’s heart to plant a church in El Paso. Then a pastor in New Mexico, he was merely visiting the city for weekend ministry.

Young people at Harvest Christian Center pitch tents in vacant lots to reach young people.

Eddie says, "For 20 years, the desire [to plant a church] would wane, then intensify. In 1991, the desire returned with intensity."

In May of last year the vision came to fruition. Eddie’s congregation of 600-plus – Harvest Christian Center — dedicated a desert-rose-colored $1.8 million stucco facility along Interstate 10 in El Paso.

This Scripture came to Eddie’s mind: "Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you" (Psalm 32:9, NIV).

"I realized I was like a mule," Lee says; "I wasn’t listening. I said, ‘Lord, just command me what You want me to do.’ And as clear as a bell in my spirit God spoke to me, ‘I don’t have to command My obedient children; just inspire them.’

"I bounded upstairs and told my wife, Linda, ‘We’re going to El Paso.’ From that day it was settled … September 6, 1991," he says, his eyes moist as he recalls the event eight years ago that thrust them from their secure position to become pioneers.

So the seasoned pastors — then in their late 40s — moved from Albuquerque, N.M., to plant a Decade of Harvest church in El Paso, with some assistance from the New Mexico and West Texas districts.

"Through the years since I first received the burden," Eddie says, "it developed in my heart that, if I planted a church in El Paso, it would be a church that would be pregnant with other congregations."

The Lees targeted the growing west side. "It was part of God’s strategy to raise up a strong church to plant other churches," he says.

From its inception, Harvest Christian Center has been a soul-winning, discipling congregation. Six weeks after the church started in rented facilities, children’s and youth ministries were added.

Daughter Jeena Lee, on staff for three years, administers the children’s ministries. Beverly Spilman is the elementary children’s pastor. This high-energy duo hosted the church’s first-ever children’s camp last summer, with 70 children.

Youth leader Monty Houston (married to the Lees’ daughter, Lorenda, the worship leader) focuses on the "champions … those who have a heart for God," he says. "From the minute we started our youth program, we started outreaches. Not us doing it, but the kids. That eliminates a lot of the problems youth get into."

Outreaches to HCC’s young people means their midweek service is one where kids feel comfortable bringing their friends who need Jesus. "We have anywhere from three to 20 first-time kids every week," Monty says. His massive frame and booming voice speak volumes to troubled kids about what they don’t want to get into.

Peter Jordan was in junior high and from a broken family when he came to Christ through the church’s Youth Explosion. In high school he had a Bible study on campus with as many as 150 students. After high school graduation, he went through the church’s School of Ministry and now helps train students. Six are currently enrolled and study courses through Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas.

"We have kids who lead on all of our campuses," Monty says. "A large number of kids come to Christ through the Bible studies at the schools. Most of them are running 30-40 on each of our campuses."

The young people pitch a tent on vacant lots to reach other young people. Frank Schoch, a civil service employee and part-time English teacher at El Paso Community College, was saved under their tent in September 1992.

"My kids were going," Frank says, "so I went to check it out, because I didn’t want my kids to be baptized. I was real bitter. I drank a lot."

Schoch took his kids to the crusade — and stayed. "I went forward," he says. "Pastor Lee was praying. Then they laid hands on me. I had back problems, but the Lord healed me that night and I haven’t had any back problems since. I went home and poured the liquor out and never took another drink."

Frank is part of Pastors Prayer Partners, a group that meets quarterly. Pastor Lee, just home from General Council in Orlando, Fla., last August, served notice to the group: "I’m ready to rearrange and reorganize everything in this church to facilitate more prayer."

Francis Diaz, an interpreter for the courts and one of many bilingual Hispanics at HCC, says, "Each of us is scheduled a day each month to pray for the church. If Pastor needs someone to pray that day [for a specific need], he contacts us.

"We don’t know what Father wants, what the Son communicates or what the Spirit is guiding us to do without prayer," Diaz says. "Without prayer we would be doing physical work. It would be nice, but it wouldn’t be godly."

Also on HCC’s staff is Michael Eddy, who was pastoring in Clovis, N.M., when he accepted Lee’s invitation to pastor a new church in east El Paso — another growing area. After meeting in a school for 14 weeks with only an evening service, the church, Life Community Church, now leases a facility and has recently added morning services. HCC pays Michael’s salary and has helped refurbish a parsonage for the family.

Linda labels her brimming-with-ideas husband of 37 years as a "man of faith and vision."

"I’m always casting vision," Pastor Lee says. "I never let anyone think that this was going to be a little church. This is just the beginning."

As the hot August wind blows across this desert town, so too the wind of the Spirit continues to breathe life into a dream that was dropped in a servant’s heart on Interstate 10 more than 28 years ago.

— Ann Floyd

 

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